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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 12 MARCH 2015Empty Moves (parts I, II and III), choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj, as it was presented in February at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris, has taken more than 10 years to exist in its actual form.

Begun by Preljocaj in 2004, the danced creation was inspired by a performance by John Cage at the Lirico Theatre in Milan in 1977. The American composer read a text taken from The Civil Disobedience by the poet Henry David Thoreau, breaking down and distorting the words in much the same way as his music, so much so that vowels and consonants were no longer forming words, but guttural noises. Groans, wheezes and long drawn-out gurgles were emitted in a low-keyed, monotonous continuation of sounds which increasingly irritated his public, Italian to boot, and not the most passive. His audience began to jeer and boo the performance, and in doing so unknowingly took part in the final recorded soundtrack which comprises not only spectators’ coughs and snuffles, but also their vociferous complaints at the nonsensical jargon they were subjected to.

Angelin Preljocaj: Empty Moves
Ballet Preljocaj
Photo: © Jean-Claude Carbonne

Preljocaj’ work for four dancers faithfully follows Cage’s soundtrack; the choreographer has ‘destructured’ dance in much the same way as Cage broke apart first music, and then text.

Two men and two girls emerged from the wings of a darkened stage; there was no décor, no music as such, and ‘costumes’ appeared to be a hastily donned outfit of t-shirt and shorts. They began stretching such as athletes before a competition, giving a demonstration of aerobics that anyone of sound limb in the audience might have joined in. And all the while the soundtrack reflected the increasing exasperation of the Italians, listening to words that had no sense.

It was thus against this cacophony of sound, of insults, whistles and catcalls, that Preljocaj’ dancers courageously continued their route, bodies in perpetual motion, performing impassively and, it must be said, joylessly, in front of a more polite French audience. For the whole theatre was not mesmerized by this non-stop flow of movement and people began to slowly trickle out of the theatre after 30 or 40 minutes of waiting for "dance " to start, for something to "happen". Several people who were trapped in the centre of rows took out their cell-phones and it was left to Angelin Preljocaj’ hard core admirers to stay to the end, cheering their hero in a standing ovation.

Angelin Preljocaj: Empty Moves
Ballet Preljocaj

Photo: © Jean-Claude Carbonne

For there was much to cheer, not least the excellence of the dancers, neat and precise, their bodies in constant movement with the lifts in slow motion, their somersaults , diagonals and the remarkable group formations towards the end, their bodies interlocked such as pieces of a puzzle to form extraordinary tableaux. They balanced, slipped and rolled in an unending flow, to make moves which were meaningless, moves that were ‘Empty’. This was Preljocaj at his most abstract, tracing the path of Cage, with the American’s voice droning on impervious to the increasing unrest and boos of his Latin audience.

Angelin Prejocaj’, one of France’s leading and greatly appreciated choreographers may well have created a most unusual work, certainly on the intellectual level, radically different from some of his more splendid earlier ballets, but it was not to the liking of all. The two-hour soundtrack, amusing at first, became both boring and difficult to sit through, almost obliterating those moments of grace in the choreography.   

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for CulturekiosqueShe last wrote on the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

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